I was intrigued when I learned about Think Film Impact Production. They are a video production company with an emphasis on creating visual presentations at the intersection of film and social change. Recently, I interviewed via email founder Danielle Turkov Wilson about her company to learn more.
Larry: Danielle, how would you describe Think Film Impact Production?
Danielle: We are Impact Producers, a growing sector in the production services of the film industry. Essentially, impact producers strive to use film as a medium for positive social ‘good’. @Think-Film social ‘good’ could mean bringing light to an issue otherwise left untouched and inaccessible to audiences which means they are left uninformed and cannot engage in making political choices that could affect the way they live, their fundamental rights, freedoms and ultimately what their future looks like. This is more obvious in a documentary film like Farenheit911 but not as clear when releasing a feature like DARK WATERS. Farenheit 911’s had clear objectives to challenge the audience perspective on the Bush administration’s motives for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan whereas DARK WATERS had so many angles it could have taken with audiences; the lack of legal accountability of big corporations, chemical infected waters and lack of public protections in place, employee’s workers rights, unfair access to healthcare, the continued abuse of such chemicals across several industries across the globe and the list could go on.
What makes us unique across the impact production sector is that we are all socio-political experts and we apply that expertise to bring powerful, meaningful and timely messaging to audiences which can drive box office success, perhaps gain access to experts/influencers for the content itself or even in earlier phases help investors/film funds deescalate the risk of giving money to the film/content. Often ‘classical’ producers would not consider these socio-political factors. This has immense value that has been left unrecognised. Data shows that today’s Gen Z and Millennial audiences are the major media consumer group and they desire authenticity. Gen Z particularly seek content that has a purpose, feels unique and is worthy of being shared So in an industry where audience is king and there is a growing impact investment market set at around 500 Billion USD film productions can start to seek funding from more impactfully minded investors
Larry: Tell me about yourself. Why did you start the company?
Danielle: I have always been a lover of the performing arts and even appeared on BBC a few times. Some of the most incredible transformations in people’s consideration of you or others would be by seeing them in someone else’s story and therefore perspective on life. I believe we can only grow if we try to empathise with who we might consider to be someone with an entirely different philosophy to you. I grew up in several countries and areas where communities believed they could no longer demand social justice from their leaders and I saw so many voluntary initiatives led by incredible individuals and groups that were left untold. Towards the end of my high school years, I also became intrigued by international impact arenas like the United Nations and European Union and their contribution to decreasing global injustice. I then decided to study Modern languages and politics with a few literary and film modules thrown in at University in London.
After graduating I did a post-graduate in human rights, I was given the opportunity to take my passion to the heart of the European Union in Brussels. So before founding Think-Film, I worked within the highest levels of creative policy strategy in President Martin Schulz’ Cabinet in the EU as well as members of parliament across the EU spearheading many projects on radicalisation, minority rights and women’s empowerment. In these arenas I witnessed that ‘change’ was not activated by policy-makers alone but by a trio of influences between governance, society and ultimately the cultural sector. This is how I found my niche at the intersection of film and policy. It was clear to me that our creative communities are closer to people’s personal stories; suffering, joy, needs etc they could inspire a policy-maker to action with real indie content that would work way more efficiently than a 50 page policy-brief delivered to our elected representatives by academic Think-Tanks.
Larry: One of your campaigns was to “improve sustainability in the film industry.” What does that mean?
Danielle: We have all been exposed to the crucial situation we face in view of the Earth warming and what that means in terms of staving off severe climate disruptions that could exacerbate hunger, conflict and drought worldwide. So for us at Think-Film “improving the sustainability in the film industry” is about ensuring we address the potential consequences if we don’t contribute to limiting the earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, by 2100. We do this in 2 ways essentially; encouraging the development and production of entertaining climate related content and by bringing new proposals for energy efficient solutions to the industry itself.
Last year we co-led the launch of the “Cannes Marche Du Film’s” impACT programme which provided expert industry insights on how to ‘greenify’ production processes. We also brought in speakers from the UN and creative industries who are coming together to bring committed partners across the film industry supply chain to sign the “Entertainment Net-Zero Accord”. The role of the film industry is crucial especially among big tech players such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple who rely on energy draining data storage systems for streaming and virtual production.
Larry: The film industry is made of a lot of different parts, from very large enterprises to the one-person studio. Where do we stand on diversity within this very broad industry?
Danielle: Social media movements like the #METOO have really forced the industry to question the unethical ways in which people were and are treated, managed and recruited into the film business overall. What has been incredibly powerful from these painful experiences suffered by many, is the rise of a layer of society that will no longer tolerate sexual or exploitative abuse of any kind. This forces the previous film garde to reflect on their practises whilst also introducing new fresh ideas from the new garde.
It is encouraging to see business models evolving to include more inclusive policies across the larger studios and smaller entities launching such as talent agencies that focus on the disabled community i.e. C-TALENT management run by Keely-Cat Wells.
Larry: Why is social change important to you?
Danielle: As the daughter of an Irish Catholic family on one side and a refugee Belarussian Jewish family on the other, adversity and poverty were the norm for many generations. There was so much determination, love and passion for community, people and society that was never harnessed and I wanted to change that. I wanted to prove that someone who would be least expected to succeed in the tough sector of film and politics could do it by putting impact first. I have done this in my personal commitments/actions, in my business model and in the way I inspire others across the industry.
There are many who would skeptically say that impact is charity and selfishly makes you feel good but the fact is that consumers today are demanding meaningful, ethical products and a way to engage with their content that makes them feel like changemakers. I am not saying that every film/media item should have a social justice campaign but thinking impactfully will even innovate marketing approaches which can capitalize better on the impact trends in the market.
Larry: From your perspective, how has the pandemic affected filmmakers?
Danielle: The pandemic forced the industry to reconsider its classical business model given that cinema screenings and theatrical releases were no longer an option. Demand to engage audiences through digital marketing shot through the roof and new technological tools to recreate an approved theatrical on demand release for awards qualifications boomed. As always humanity prevails in any struggle and will find a way to keep culture alive. Sadly this did come at a huge cost because not all of these innovations have been approved or adopted and many films were put on hold which caused many creatives to struggle economically. I think it is crucial for nation states to invest in their creatives at times of crisis because often it is the creatives who motivate the nation’s people through these very tough times.
The need for on demand content has been at an all-time high and data driven VOD platforms have further increased their power equity position in the industry overall because they demonstrated versatility that others could not.
Larry: Where do you see technology is heading?
Danielle: I LOVE technology, especially the way storytelling is evolving into VR, AR and XR format. Sometimes these formats are more conducive to the audience’s senses and trigger more intense emotional responses. We have several multi-format stories in our slate including the most recently Sundance AR selection 7 Grams by Director and journalist Karim Ben Khalifa. 7 Grams allows audiences to use their smartphones to visualise the natural resources extracted that make-up our products and the human cost of this extraction. Most notably there is an impact action embedded into the experience which we co-designed.
It has incredible power and innovation, it means that we can truly diversify our teams across the globe with ever growing virtual production tools and provide greater investment into other less recognisable film industry hubs. Nonetheless the power of this technology is immense and its ability to profile audiences and increase the development of content that is trending or popular does concern me. Film and media have been powerful tools to challenge audiences, placing them into spaces, conversations and dynamics they would not otherwise sign-up for. If they only watch what is trending rather than a story that has been critically acclaimed across the industry there is a chance that the narratives we produce are over commercialised and limit people’s capacity to imagine scenarios beyond the trends.
Larry: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like to see happen in our industry?
Danielle: This has definitely got to be my favourite question so far; I hope Think-Film’s work would have been a major force in the launching of an “impact producer” category at the Oscars, Emmy, BAFTA, CESAR & EFA awards. Enough research and evaluation and case studies are already available to integrate specific social impact indicators for film/media selection at festivals and therefore also in their nomination for awards ceremonies across the globe.
Certification for ‘green productions’ has already been launched via initiatives such as ALBERT and guidelines to fairer representation in and behind the camera are trending. Impact campaigns clearly extend the life cycle and legacy of media content. These efforts were left unrecognised for so long, it seems there is finally momentum to clarify why impact strategic work can incentivise a production, intrigue investors and contribute to a better, more socially just world.
Larry: Many of these problems you describe are large, complex and seemingly beyond anyone’s control. What can we do that will make a significant difference?
Danielle: This is how so many people in our audiences’ feel. I forget the number of producers and directors I have met that say “but will we be able to really change something?” Equally though their passions have also led to launching intangible campaigns that are simply too big in scope which make change almost impossible to consider. The secret is always in defining what the milestones are within the impact strategy. What can first be achieved in this community and/or locally? Does my story resonate across the nation, which organisations empathise and with whom can I collaborate? And then once all the stakeholders are in place defining what the international potential is? The key is to respect and empower individuals, businesses and organisations who have championed these issues being raised in the content for years or even generations. Impact allows our stakeholders to have their own stake in your creative work without jeopardising the independence of your art. The power in positive social change has historically come at the cost of great compromise. So if many organisations can ‘own’ their own narrative with the film/media then instead of 10 stories on one issue with fractured communities, you will have one story that can move mountains.
Some of the social impact we have achieved include: banned the use of a specific toxic solvent across tech supply chains, accelerated the protection against toxic forever chemicals; and persuaded the European Commission to include a PFAS ban in their chemical strategy, onboarded 65 multinationals committed to removing PFAS from their products and supply chains and secured international human rights prizes to empower the voices of women in determining their stake in the discussion for the future of Syria at the UN.
Larry: These are scary times for many of us for a wide variety of reasons. What do you see as reasons for hope?
Danielle: When I get asked this I always think of Hans Rosling’s FACTFULNESS, the reason being is that in news media we are often primarily exposed to great injustice, conflict, poverty and natural disaster but Rosling reminds us all that factually we are in a better place as humans than we ever have been before. No, this does not mean we do not have to address issues like climate change but rather use his factful references as inspiration to guide us to action. Humans have been fighting for a better world since our conception, this has not changed and despite all the horrors we see and have seen in the media the world continues to evolve and become better than the years that preceded it.
Humility, authenticity and a demand for meaningful living is what people want and there is hope in that because to do that we need each other.
Larry: Danielle, thank you for your time and these detailed answers. I enjoyed chatting with you and wish you all success.
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